About The Author: Tamsyn is a bowel cancer survivor, IBD warrior, and model living in New Zealand. You can connect with her on Instagram @nysmat.
Experiencing Initial Symptoms
Initially, I thought that I was having a flare of my ulcerative colitis, so I didn’t think too much of it, my symptoms were super similar but heightened..but I’d never experienced so much blood in my stool before (it was like a crime scene), my normal ulcerative colitis pain became unbearable & the fatigue was so severe. I got tired from doing the most simple of tasks like brushing my hair or taking a shower.
I knew something was wrong.. but I just didn’t know the severity of it. As we were in level 3 lockdown in New Zealand, instead of going into the hospital, I had a phone consult with my specialist in July 2020. My doctor took the severity of my symptoms seriously and organized for me to have blood tests and a colonoscopy.
Getting Diagnosed With Bowel Cancer
During the colonoscopy, my doctor noticed severe inflammation and performed a biopsy during the procedure. Shortly after, I was admitted to the hospital and had another series of tests done, including x-rays, a cat scan, and an MRI. It was then that I was diagnosed with stage 3B bowel cancer.
I felt that my heart was completely broken. Even though I knew that something was wrong, I was in disbelief. I couldn’t stop crying and was absolutely devastated.
A month later, my team of amazing surgeons scheduled my first procedure. I had a sub-colectomy ileostomy surgery (which I call my “colon farewell” surgery).
Having My Eggs Frozen
10 days after surgery, I started an egg-freezing process as I knew I was going to have to have chemotherapy. Egg-freezing is a common form of fertility preservation for women who are going through aggressive cancer treatments that can later impact their ability to have children. My first round of injections didn’t work, but luckily, after another round of hormone injections, I was able to get two mature eggs frozen. I realize that’s not that many, but I’m so happy knowing that I’ve done everything I possibly could for my future.
Ups And Downs With Chemo
I then started chemotherapy in November. My initial plan was to be on Capox, but I ended up in an ambulance and was admitted to the hospital as I couldn’t stop vomiting. I also had an allergic reaction to some anti-nausea meds too, which ended up me turning bright red all over. My legs couldn’t stop spasming for 2 hours and my heart rate was extremely elevated, so my oncology team discussed my case and agreed that they needed to change my chemotherapy from Capox to Folfox (better-tolerated chemo).
At the moment, my liver levels are dangerously high (chemo is processed through the liver), and the tingling/numbness in my hands is somewhat worrisome (as it can cause permanent nerve damage). My oncology team has yet again decided to make a change & from a few weeks ago, have taken me off Oxaliplatin (which is the chemo drug causing this) & I’ll stay on the Fluorouracil (5FU) colonic acid - the little bottle of chemo which is attached to my body & infuses over 48 hours.
Embracing The Change
It’s strange because, although this has been the hardest time in my life, I feel that since being diagnosed with bowel cancer, it’s almost as if I have a superpower. I feel extremely grateful for every second I’m alive and don’t second guess myself as much. Although of course I still have my insecurities, I honestly feel more confident than ever. I have learned to love my new scars and appreciate living with an ostomy bag as they are beautiful proof that I still exist.
Even before my bowel cancer journey, I feel that I’ve always had a “sunshine state of mind.” I feel that in a weird way, it’s almost as If I’m lucky that I’ve been unwell with ulcerative colitis for most of my life, as over the years I’ve been able to adapt many coping mechanisms. It’s helped me in terms of actively choosing to be happy & doing things that I love. Even if I’m feeling really sick, I will still try to go to the beach, meditate, or do something that makes me feel extra nice.
I have a really good chance of surviving cancer (75%). I have great comfort in the fact that my whole large bowel (colon) was removed, and that the chemotherapy is zapping what could be left of the cancer in my lymph nodes. But yeah, I think that it’s so important to listen to your body. If something feels off... see a doctor, and get it checked out! Even if it might be hard or somewhat embarrassing to talk about, your body deserves that respect.
If you are looking for more resources and support surrounding cancer, check out our other blogs:
- 13 Ways To Help A Loved One With Cancer
- Gift Ideas For A Patient Undergoing Chemotherapy
- 5 Things No One Told Me About Chemotherapy
- Online Support Groups For Cancer Patients And Caregivers
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